Other formats

    Adobe Portable Document Format file (facsimile images)   TEI XML file   ePub eBook file  


    mail icontwitter iconBlogspot iconrss icon

Salient. Victoria University Student Newspaper. Volume. 34, Number 12. June 16, 1971

'When what is ordered by a authority is opposed to the object for which that authority was constituted.... one is obliged to disobent it... one who liberats his country by Killing a tyrant is to be praised and rewarded,'

page break

'When what is ordered by [unclear: a] authority is opposed to the object for which that [unclear: au]thority was constituted.... one is obliged to [unclear: disobent it]... one who liberats his country by Killing [unclear: a] tyrant is to be praised and rewarded,'

Photo of Sathvandranath Ragunnedn Maharaj

Sathvandranath Ragunnedn Maharaj, one of the 15 'Asians' serving prison sentences under the South African security laws, has now served six and a half years on Robben Island, and has five and a half years still to run.

He was born in Natal in the early nineteen thirties, and was brought up near the small town of Newcastle.

In 1964. when he was brought to court in the Transvaal after some months in 90-day detention, he alleged that during interrogation by the security police, he had been beaten, kicked in the groin, and hit in the groin with a plank pierced with a nail.

Photo of Indres Naidoo

Indres Naidoo is serving a ten-year sentence on Robben Island. He was convicted of sabotage in May 1963. having been unable to appear at his trial because he had been shot by police.

Since he has been on Robben Island he has been charged I with failing to comply with prison regulations: he spent fourteen days in solitary confinement in 1965 for informing his attorney of an assault by a warder on him and of the conditions of the island.

Indres Naidoo is the brother of Shanti Naidoo who was held m solitary confinement for over a year and refused to give evidence in the trial of Winnie Mandela and 21 others.

What are the influences which so bear on a decent, peace-loving man that he feels compelled to stand up against the forces which constitute the state and which result in the commission of so-called crimes against the security of the state?

Why are there political prisoners in South Africa?

I want to paint a very brief picture of life in South Africa, and then to pose the question whether it is possible to accept that form of existence without active protest.

A young African, still a schoolboy, is sent by his mother to a white shopping area to buy some article. He left his passbook at home. He meets a policeman and is arrested on a charge of failing to produce his pass.

A domestic servant sits on a warm night on the curbstone outside his employer's home, it is just after curfew, namely 10 pm. He has no "night-pass" allowing him to be in the street after 10 pm. A police "pick-up" van arrives. He explains his situation. Is he taken to his employer to check up on what he said? No, he is arrested, taken to and locked up in a cell, confined for the night and charged in Court next day.

Africans arrive in an urban area to seek employment, which cannot be found in their "homelands". If they remain for more than 72 hours, they will form part of South Africa's enormous prison population. They may be offered work as farm labourers at a less than subsistence wage. Refusal means conviction and conviction can mean forced labour.

A teacher may decide that he does not want a child he knows to have an inferior "Bantu" education and may decide to teach him to read and write. He will be committing an offence.

An African shop steward may suggest a strike for better wages. He will end up a convict and, should his fellow workers go on stroke, they too will end up in prison.

A worker decides to terminate his employment. He commits an offence. He decides he cannot afford to pay his rent. He commits an offence. He enters a railway station or a post office through a "whites only" entrance. He commits an offence. He sits on a "whites only" bench in a park. He commits an offence.

He has no political rights, no power to vote, no freedom of movement, no freedom of speech, in fact he is only wanted for his labour. He is a human beast of burden.

It would be possible to go on almost indefinitely detailing thin numerable discriminatory and unjust laws affecting the non-white peoples of South Africa. But these examples should be enough to explain why this decent, peace-loving man decides that the atmosphere is choking him and why he must actively oppose the system of apartheid.

And so he courts arrest and conviction and becomes a political prisoner.

Political prisoners are distinguishable from other prisoners not only because they have not been convicted of social crimes; not only because their background obviously ill suits them to be classified with armed robbers, gangsters and thieves; not only because they study in prison; but also because they alone of prisoners are refused any remissions of their sentences.

Quite clearly South Africa's accepted way of life is more compatible with that of the gangster than of the man who seeks to improve the lot of his fellowmen.

If the political prisoner happens to be a solicitor, he will be struck off the roll on application by the Secretary of Justice. The mere listing of a solicitor as a man who has at any time been a member or active supporter of an organisation declared, without prior notice, to be unlawful on the grounds that inter alia it aims at social change in South Africa, will also result in his being struck off the roll. No reason need be given for listing a person and the onus is on him to institute legal proceedings to show he should be listed.

When the political prisoner has served his full sentence, a banning order is served on himand he is placed under house arrest. He may work but his house arrest covers the period 7 pm to 7 am and weekends. He may not receive visitors (which includes close relatives) and may no communicate with any other banned person.

A banned person once had to attend Court. Another banned person attended the same Court. One said "hello" the other put her fingers to herlips. Both were arrested, dragged from Court and thrown into jail.

The African National Congress and the Pan-African Congress are "unlawful" organisations. An elderly man, who had a photo in his house, taken over 20 years ago of himself and other members of the ANC, then a legal organisation, was sentenced to six months imprisonment.

Possession of a badge of the ANC, obtained when it was a legal organisation, had also resulted in heavy sentences. In the same way, possession of an old copy of a new banned publication results in the loss of liberty.

A banned person may not have any statement made by him published or disseminated in any way.

The playing of bridge has resulted in the imposition of a long term of imprisonment for a banned person. Snooker has, however, led to an aquittal. Social intercourse has had so many interpretations by different courts as to lose any real meaning.

If the Minister of Justice thinks the release of a political prisoner can encourage or defend any object of communisim he can order indefinite detention. If it is decided that a political prisoner could bear witness in some other political proceedings, continued periods of detention of 180 days can follow.

Recently we have had the bizarre position of a political prisoner who has been granted an exit permit to leave South Africa but refused permission to leave a town in that same country.

In this short survey, the real suffering of the political prisoner cannot really be portrayed and I have not dwelt at all on the lot of the majority of African political prisoners banished on their release to remote areas of the huge country, there to suffer page break [unclear: cerribly] in distress of body and mind, there to await a [unclear: ingering] death.

I have not even made mention of those wonderful men and women who remain confined in the jails which are symbolic of the "white civilisation" of South Africa. Political prisoners would not ask us to cry for them: but they would ask a cry to go out to all civilized people the world over to stand firm against assistance to apartheid South Africa.

We must couple that cry with a demand for the release of all those true sons and daughters of South Africa from the prisons that confine them and from the restrictions that shackle them.

Lewis Baker

Lewis Baker was arrested with Bram Fischer in 1964 and was convicted under the Suppression of Communism Act. He spent four years in prison in South Africa and holds the distinction of being the first South African lawyer to be disqualified because of his conviction. Immediately after his release from prison in April 1968 he was placed under house arrest. He left South Africa in April 1970.

'Committee for Clemency' formed in South Africa.

The Celebrations planned for the tenth anniversary of the Republic of South Africa include an amnesty for prisoners, and within South Africa itself, one interesting response to these plans has been the formation of a "Committee for Clemency', which is now urging that the amnesty be extended to include political prisoners as well.

The convenor of the committee is Newalal Ramgobin, a Durban businessman, who was himself 'banned' at one time, and whose wife is the granddaughter of Mahatma Gandhi. Mr Ramgobin has toured South Africa, addressing the student bodies of a number of universities, to put the case for clemency.

In a statement in support of the clemency campaign, Mrs Helen Suzman, the Progressive Party MP, distinguished between four classes of political prisoners.

First of all, there are those serving prison sentences under security laws. The South African Government announced in January that there are 808 of these in all—769 Africans, 15 Asians, 14 Whites and 10 Coloured people. (The number at present detailed without trial under the Terrorism Act is undisclosed.)

About 280 men and women are under 'banning orders', and 35 of these are under "house arrest'.

Over 30 Africans have been banished to remote reserves under the Native Administration Act of 1927 - one man has now been banished for 21 years, and his wife, who is with him, for 17.

The fourth class of prisoners consists of those who have served prison sentences, but who, on their release, were not allowed to return to their homes, and were sent instead to 'resettlement camps'.

Tony Klew, chairman of the social welfare section of the National Union of South African Students, said:

"We believe clemency should be shown to those banned, exiled, imprisoned, many of whom have never been found guilty of any offence, but who have been arbitrarily victimised by the Government for their sincere belief that the present system is wrong."

The amnesty at the time of the fifth anniversary of the republic in 1966 applied to criminal prisoners only, and prisoners opposed to the present regime in South Africa have consistently been excluded from amnesties in the past. Nevertheless, the Committee for Clemency feels that there is a precedent in the case of Robey Leibbrandt, the Nazi agent who was landed from a German yacht on the coast of South Africa during the war, with ten thousand dollars and instructions to make contact with Nazi sympathisers within te country. Leibbrandt was granted an amnesty in 1948, soon after the Nationalist Government came to power.

Among other people who have come out in support of the clemency campaign are the Anglican Archbishop of Cape Town, the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Durban and the President-Elect of the Methodist Church of South Africa; the Vice-Chancellor of the University of Cape Town, the professor of law at the Universit of Natal, and other university lecturers; the leader of the South African Labour Party: the writers, Andre Brink, Adam Small and Nadine Gordimer; the president of the Durban Chamber of Commerce; the director of the South African Institute of Race Relations; and Dr Christian Barnard, the heart surgeon.

Jean Middleton

Banning order.

There is some slight variation in the 'banning' orders served on different individuals, but the standard banning notice has clauses which:

Confine the banned person to a restricted area (this area is generally the magisterial district in which he lives, but may be smaller than that)

Compel him to report to a certain specified police station regularly (generally every day, or on a certain day each week)

Forbid him to attend any gathering social or otherwise

Forbid him to communicate with any other banned person

Forbid the publication of anything he writes or says

Forbid him to set foot in any premises used for the purpose of publication

Forbid him to teach or give any kind of instruction to anyone except his own children

Forbid him to set foot on the premises of any educational institution

Exclude him from areas set aside for people of races other than his own

Forbid him to set foot on any factory premises

The 'house arrest' clause, if imposed can confine him to his house or flat for anything from 1 2 to 24 hours of the day.

The 'banning' orders are valid for five years. They may then be re-imposed, and generally are. The minimum penalty for a first offence against them is a year's imprisonment, of which all but four days may be suspended.

Photo of Billy Nair

Billy Nair was charged in 1964 with conspiring to overthrow the State together with 17 other people, all from Natal. He was convicted and sentenced to twenty years' imprisonment which he is serving on Robben Island.

He joined the Natal Indian Congress and became Secretary of the Chemical Workers Union. He was also General Secretary of the Durban local committee of the multi-racial South African Congress of Trade Unions until he was banned in 1963.

Photo of Toivo Hermann Ja Toivo

Toivo Hermann Ja Toivo is one of the 37 Namibians who were convicted in Pretoria Supreme Court in 1967. He was sentenced to 20 years in prison and is now on Robben Island.

In the Second World War he served in the Native Military Corps, guarding military installations since, being black, he was not allowed to carry arms. His parents could not send him to school when he was a child and he started school at the age of 23.

In his speech to the Court at his trial he said he was proud that his people had taken up arms to liberate their country.